Monday, March 27, 2017

Sacramental issues

After two weeks slogging through one of the toughest subjects in all of Christendom (Baptism), I thought I might try a written response to clear up some of the ambiguity remaining. Let me start by saying that I knew that this was going to be difficult, but my policy is to deal with the subjects that arise in scripture when we come to them rather than find easy topics and find the scripture to go with them. That policy is one I believe strongly in maintaining. We need to think about, pray about, and discuss tough topics.

One general note before I proceed. We are having a Bible Study, not an Anglican Study. Our source material is scripture, not the Book of Common Prayer (origins of this fine prayer book notwithstanding). While there will be Anglican particulars mentioned, the point of this exercise is to explore and learn about the Bible. If you feel that we are losing track of that point, please interject and we will adjust our trajectory.

There are two sacraments instituted by Jesus during his earthly ministry: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. In this we are in agreement. We are also in agreement that the Holy Spirit is the active agent in both sacraments. What follows then is my description of these two sacraments and answers to all of the questions that arose over these two meetings.

A sacrament, according to the Anglican lexicon, is an outward, visible sign of an inward, invisible truth. Some of you may not have heard this definition before, but those of you who have an Anglican background certainly have, and probably also those of you who have a Methodist background. This means that we are doing a ritual, but that there is something unseen going on there as well. As we stated before, the Holy Spirit is the active agent. Therefore, what we need to discover is what the Holy Spirit is doing in both of these instances.

Baptism is instituted as a necessary initiation into the covenant community by Jesus in Matthew 3. We know that this is a necessary part of the salvation equation because in the Great Commission [Matthew 28:19], Jesus specifically states that we should go forth baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. We know that washing with water is necessary from John 13, the baptism of the apostles. We have discussed that the Holy Spirit is present, but the implications of that presence need to be emphasized.

The notion of covenant inclusion is ground that we have covered in our meetings. In the Old Testament (OT), covenant inclusion was set out in the Abrahamic Covenant [Genesis 15-18] with a sacrament of circumcision [Genesis 17]. Circumcision was the outward, visible sign of an inward, invisible truth: inclusion in the covenant family of Abraham. Baptism is instituted as a new sacrament of repentance that is the outward, visible sign of the inward, invisible truth of inclusion in the New Covenant family of Jesus. Following the Jewish precedent, circumcision was not done until at least the eighth day of life [Genesis 17:12], but it was not exclusively an infant event. Many people were brought into the Jewish covenant family by adult circumcision [Genesis 17:12-13]. The difference between circumcision and baptism, then, is a matter of into which covenant are we inviting the new member. The New Covenant in Christ Jesus is the Better Covenant because He fulfilled all the prior OT covenants and established His New Covenant through His blood.

So, while the outward visible sign is clear, water baptism, let us explore the nature of the inward, invisible truth. While only men were circumcised, we baptize all people including women. It is important to understand that the English word “man” comes from German and it means people in a general sense without respect to gender. Likewise, the Greek words used in the institution of this sacrament are not gender specific. Therefore, we can in good conscious baptize women as well as men. This is an important step. Nowhere does Jesus specifically baptize a woman. Importantly, neither is this specified concerning John the Baptist. We can, therefore, surmise that Jesus is MORE inclusive than the OT model.

We can also say that the Holy Spirit was clearly present when John baptized Jesus. In fact, as one of us so adroitly pointed out, this was the first public expression of the Trinity [Matthew 3:16-17]. This presence of the Holy Spirit is a key point that cannot be overstated. The Holy Spirit is present in the sacraments. This is what makes them sacraments.

Digression for a moment is necessary at this point to discuss the condition of sin. We all agree that sin entered into the world through one man, Adam, and his sin is imputed on all of his offspring forever. The wage of sin is death and all men inherit this wage from Adam: we all die. Just as clearly, we are all born into sin. This means that no man is capable of doing good on his own. Indeed, given the choice, no man can or would choose God on his own [Romans 3:1-12]. This means very specifically that every man born is sinful by nature from the moment of conception. It requires the intervention of the Holy Spirit to change this truth. This is an important point and one of which we must not lose sight: we cannot and would not choose Christ on our own. An adult is baptized after an encounter with the Holy Spirit. But who is to say that an adult is not coerced into being baptized or is lying about his faith, and has his first encounter with the Holy Spirit in Baptism. That encounter is genuine nonetheless.

God is faithful all the time; and all the time, God is faithful. The Holy Spirit is God. The Holy Spirit is faithful all the time; and all the time, the Holy Spirit is faithful. If you are predestined before time to be a vessel that the potter has made for salvation [Ephesians 1:3-14], then the efficacy of baptism is 100%. If not, then efficacy of baptism is nil, because the Holy Spirit knows true faith and knows which vessel is to be good. This is a key point between some Protestants, particularly Lutherans, who believe that baptism delivers what it promises: redemption and transformation. Others believe in regard to apparent failure of regeneration in a person one of two possibilities, either that a person may “fall away” from Christ, or that the baptism was not authentic in some way, meaning that the Holy Spirit did not enter into the person being baptized at that moment. Both of these possibilities are troubling. If the Holy Spirit is always present and enters into the recipient of the sacrament, then if a person appears to fall away from Christ, then the Holy Spirit is not always faithful. I cannot, of course, accept that as a possibility. This leaves me with the other possibility: some vessels are meant for salvation and others are not. The Holy Spirit knows the difference. But let us never forget the example of Luke 23:39-43, the second prisoner on the cross next to Jesus. Even in the last moments of life, the Holy Spirit is faithful. We as mere human witnesses are not able ultimately to discern the difference. While true faith and salvation demonstrates good fruit, it is important to bear in mind that we are not God. We do not ultimately decide which vessel is meant for salvation and which is not.

We do as a covenant people hold the keys to the covenant community. In as much as that is true, we hold the keys to the sacrament of Baptism (there is an obvious quandary and corollary concerning the thief on the cross and his baptism). As those who hold the keys to the sacrament of baptism, how do we best control entry into the covenant community?

There are obviously two models: paedobaptism and credobaptism. Paedo is a Greek root meaning child. So, paedobaptism is the baptism of children. Credo is a Latin root that means belief. So credobaptism is the baptism of believers. It is interesting that the root words are from Greek (paedo & baptism) and Latin (credo). Greek is the language of the New Testament (NT), while Latin is the language of Rome. Do with that what you will! I only point it out for academic interest, not a proof point.

When engaging the issue of paedobaptism, I think it is important to go back to scripture. The most obvious point is neither side is given definitive inclusion or exclusion by scripture. Read John 13, particularly verse 7 along with verses 12-20. The apostles did not understand what was happening to them even as Jesus Himself was instituting the sacrament of baptism. The argument can go either way from here. Either, as Jesus states, they will come to understand soon, or the Holy Spirit does the action on them that day, only to bring full understanding to them later.

This leads us down the two roads we discussed above. If we argue that Pentecost completes the baptism of the apostles, but could not occur prior to Easter and is therefore a separate event for them only, then we can say that there is one baptism as in the Nicene Creed and that believers baptism was present for the apostles as well. This is sort of the same way that Abraham’s covenant spills out over 4 chapters rather than being in one neat, concise package. If we argue that Pentecost is either a second baptism or, better, a second encounter with the Holy Spirit that brings understanding, then we have baptism of the apostles without true belief at that point, but with the faithfulness of the Holy Spirit as the agent of regeneration. Still, this is troubling as it leads us to dangerous ground of a second baptism if that language is taken into Acts 2.

For the record, the word ‘baptism’ does not appear in Acts 2. It just doesn’t. What it says there instead is that the Holy Spirit comes and enters them. It does not even say that it is their first encounter with the Holy Spirit, although some may argue that it is implied by Jesus when he says that the Paraclete cannot come until he is gone. So, does this mean that the Holy Spirit was not present at the baptism of the apostles? Remember Matthew 3. The Holy Spirit was already present with Jesus. The difference in Acts 2 is that now the Holy Spirit has come to take residence in all of us. This is a change in locus not a change in function. This is an Easter generated event, a one-time shift from external to internal dwelling of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, we can argue that the apostles’ baptism is unique. While the Holy Spirit was present at their baptism due to the presence and participation of Jesus, the consummation of the new residence of the Holy Spirit in the covenant people is instituted at Pentecost. This is not a second baptism. Subsequent to Pentecost, the Holy Spirit immediately assumes His dwelling inwardly in the recipient of the sacrament of baptism. Therefore, regeneration occurs simultaneously with covenant community entry in those who are known by the Holy Spirit from before time.

This discussion is not meant to say that adults are not or should not be baptized. That is a ridiculous notion. All the apostles were adults. Even in the Anglican Communion today, far more adults are baptized than infants. What is meant here is not either-or, but both-and. Remember what we said much earlier: Jesus is MORE inclusive than Abraham, not less.

Still, we hold the keys as covenant leaders to the sacrament of baptism. Who shall we baptize? Here, we must look again at biblical precedent. If baptism is to circumcision as Jesus is to Abraham, then the eighth day seems to be appropriate if the new infant is born into a covenant family. This is a key point. The family must be a covenant family. If a communicant elder knows the family, then this part is easy. He may baptize the infant. If the elder does not know the family, or only knows one parent, this becomes more difficult. The responsibility of raising the child in covenant community lies not only with the parents, but with the whole covenant community. Let us suppose that a parent desires the an elder who baptized them to also baptize their child, but that parent no longer attends the congregation of that elder. Instead, they attend a congregation in another town. It would not be appropriate for that elder who does not know both parents to do the baptism. Indeed, it would not be appropriate for that elder’s congregation to take on the responsibility for raising that child in covenant community when the parents are a part of another covenant community. I hope that this clears up one of the statements that I made concerning whether I would or would not baptize a particular child. The responsibility is not just on the elder, but on his congregation, in addition to the parents.

Concerning adults, who shall we baptize? Is the Holy Spirit just as faithful for adults as He is for infants and children? Of course. Nonetheless, we have the opportunity with adults to lead them to greater understanding prior to the institution of the sacrament of Baptism. The notion of a believer’s baptism makes greater sense in the context of an adult. But Baptism is not just about belief, it is about repentance. An adult is able to understand that they are sons of Adam and therefore born into sin needing salvation from an external source. An adult can be taught the full equation of salvation: why it was necessary for Jesus to enter the world, why Easter was necessary, why faith is sufficient. An adult is already the head of his own nuclear family, be it only a family of one. His responsibility is greater in that regard. He must repent and accept the futility of his own works. This implies that the adult has already encountered the Holy Spirit prior to baptism (unless there is coercion or falsehood involved). Why would we be surprised about that, that the Holy Spirit has already been at work? What are the means of grace? The means of grace are the preaching of the Word and the sacraments. The Holy Spirit encounters man when we preach the Word (correctly). Again, adult baptism is not the exception, it is the majority.

Finally, concerning baptism, there is the problem of multiple baptisms. Some people feel that when they have fallen away from God for a while or that their relationship with God has gotten stale, that they need to do something to renew their zeal. They will seek a second (or third) baptism. This is not the same as someone who either does not know if they were baptized or whether their baptism was valid due to the apostasy of the celebrant. For those people, reassurance is necessary that the first baptism is valid. The power lies in the Holy Spirit, not in either the elder or the new covenant member. If a second baptism occurs, it is OK. It is not necessary, but it is OK.

Returning to the issue of the person who has "fallen away" and seeks re-baptism for this reason, there is a major flaw with this thinking. There is the assumption that how a person feels about God matters to how God feels towards His people. This very assumption flies in the face of the sovereignty of God. God is faithful all the time; all the time, God is faithful. God does not need us to do anything. It is already done. It is finished. Baptism was designed as a onetime event to bring us into the covenant community, to bring about our regeneration, and to begin the process of sanctification. There was another sacrament designed by Christ and instituted by Christ that is designed for repeat usage, in fact, it is designed for whenever we are gathered together. This is the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, or Holy Communion.

The institution of the Lord’s Supper [Matthew 26:26-29] begins a sacrament of memorial for events yet to come at that point in history (prior to Easter). And yet, we can say truly that the Holy Spirit is present, because the Holy Spirit was present with Jesus at that moment. When Paul is chastising the church in Corinth [1 Corinthians 11], he frames the scene as this: “When you come together as a church….” He proceeds to discuss the Lord’s Supper. The implication here is that when we come together as a church, we share the Lord’s Supper. While many churches do not do communion regularly, some do. My intent here is not to argue an issue of frequency (you already know my views of this point); my intent instead is to argue the issue of the presence of the Holy Spirit in this sacrament.

If we need renewal, and all of us do need renewal from time to time, the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is there for us. If as Paul says that this sacrament is available whenever we gather as a church, then surely we should take him at his word. Some saints may argue that repeating this sacrament regularly takes away from the specialness of the sacrament. They might say that they do not feel particularly in tune with that sacrament on a particular day. This is the same error that those same saints make concerning baptism. The power is not in the person administering the sacrament or in the person receiving the sacrament. The power is in the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God; the Holy Spirit is faithful all the time; all the time, the Holy Spirit is faithful.

We are so wound up in what we do, that we can lose sight of who is actually doing anything that matters. It isn’t us. Jesus spoke that it was done. The Holy Spirit is sanctifying us as we live and breathe, even when we do not recognize his hand. The means of grace are God’s Word and the sacraments that Jesus has given us. Through those means of grace, the Holy Spirit is working on us despite ourselves. Our reverent mood or zeal is not required. The Holy Spirit is faithful all the time; all the time, the Holy Spirit is faithful. What can we possibly offer that God doesn’t already have? What can we do that hasn’t already been done? I don’t really like the slogan “Let go and let God,” but there is certain applicability to this discussion. We must let go of our desire to control God. We must let go of our desire to believe that we bring anything of value to the table. Salvation is not about us and what we do. Salvation is about God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. It is for us, for all of us whom He has chosen. We have an advocate with the Father; He always wins His cases. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who never loses one of His own.

Let us continue to use all of these tools that we have been given, to the glory of God the Father, and God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Doctrines of Grace, Judgment, Discernment, Discipline and Forgiveness

   It has been discussed in public forum of late the particular sin of a particular young man. As he is a public figure, his image and reputation have taken a beating. To begin this discussion, I would start by first differentiating The Law from civil ordinance. The Law of God as expressed in the Decalogue and interpreted by Jesus is incontrovertible, absolute, fundamental and at the same time impossible. Civil ordinance is by man for man, judged by man, enforced by man and punished by man. It has a purpose that in many respects parallels the Law, but takes far more specifics into account. Case law is another animal altogether and beyond the scope of this post. To discuss the doctrines of grace, one is entering into discourse concerning The Law of God.

   The doctrines of grace are a set of principles that were a response to a challenge by the followers of Jacob Arminius to the followers of John Calvin by those same followers of Calvin. We use the English acronym TULIP to abbreviate those doctrines, but this often seems to wash the discussion of any serious consideration. The mere mentioning of the word “Calvinist” shuts down the brains of many who would rather lose their eyes than read about anything as heretical as God’s grace. Nonetheless, that is where I will soldier onward with the post.

   In order to understand grace, you have to understand the problem. The problem is the fall, the fall of Adam, and the resultant inherited condemnation of all men under the Law. Many have said that this is not fair, that we should inherit the guilt of our fathers. Yet, examples of this are as plain in human history as our noses, and we still deny this basic tenet. Are monarchies fair? Ask the Romanovs, the children. The punishment for Adam's sin was death. God said that we have inherited this guilt forever (Genesis 3:17-19) for surely there are no true human immortals on this earth. Our faith is based upon a lifting of this curse by some mechanism. So, the first doctrine of grace is that all humans are born into sin without exception.

   Now, it comes to this, some people are saved by God for God. It should come to no one’s surprise that there are people in this world who are damned for all time. Without a doubt, Judas Iscariot falls into this category. In Matthew 27, Judas changes his mind and attempts to return the thirty pieces of silver. In the Greek, the word for changing your mind is different than that for repent. Thus, Judas is said to not have repented and is therefore condemned. If you accept that God, as the potter, has the right to make one vessel for one purpose and another vessel for another purpose, and that there are no conditions made by that vessel that can effect God’s purpose, then you are understanding the concept of God’s sovereignty.

   This next point is tricky, but it follows directly from the above. God has decided to save some of humanity for Himself. Which ones? Only He knows, but there is nothing any of us can do about becoming one of His vessels chosen for salvation. Again, this is a sovereignty issue. The manner of this salvation is of course not disputed: Christ came into the world to save sinners.

  If God has selected you for salvation, it is going to happen. There is nothing that you can do about it. It’s like catching chicken pox. One day, you will find yourself in the right place at the right time, and it just happens. Just like chicken pox, once you have been selected, you cannot be unselected. Why would God undo His own will? So, His grace is sufficient for His people, completely sufficient.

   Some of you are astute readers, and would have recognized these doctrines of grace for what they are without the benefit of their English acronym labels. But this is just pure logic from the pen of the Reformers. The doctrines of grace mean that God ultimately chooses His own people, and we do not hold the answers to who is on the roster. There are many side issues that happen along this discussion that I will not wander upon today, but when a Reformed person talks about grace, that person has a very high view of God’s sovereignty and a very humble view of his own merits.

   Which brings me back to this young public figure and the definitions of judgment and discernment. There is only one Judge, and I am not He. Judgment is coming, and God already knows the verdict. We are all guilty, yes, guilty. See total depravity above concerning the problem of sin. But some of us have an Advocate with the Father, one who has ransomed our salvation with His own blood. We have been reclaimed from the refuse heap, saved from damnation, selected for eternal life. Judgment is not a human thing in this context.

   Discernment is another matter. We are charged to discern between right preaching, right theology and that other gospel that is not really the gospel at all. Not all people are equally equipped in this matter, and many should avoid that playing field entirely. Because the penalty for wrong shepherds are steep indeed according to Paul’s letters to Timothy. With leadership comes great responsibility. Discernment is the realm of wisdom, the application of reason and knowledge to the arena of faith. Discernment is about interpretation and hermeneutics, a fertile ground for disagreement even amongst biblical scholars. Yet, it doesn’t take a PhD to recognize some obvious failings of doctrine.

   In the realm of men, we have civil laws. We have social responsibilities. We have actions and consequences. In civil law, we in the West begin from a very different starting point. Go back to the third paragraph: God starts from the position that all of humanity is damned. Humans in our civil undertakings start from the opposite premise that all of humanity is innocent. If you do not recognize that this is a vastly different playing field, then you will be doomed to misunderstand judgment in the two contexts. Humans judge humans according to civil ordinances and social standards. Actions have consequences in this realm. An infringement of the civil law should have a commensurate judgment and punishment. In this way, men judge men.

   No one is suggesting that our young public figure should escape civil justice, far from it. God instructs us to respect the laws of men for a reason, namely, he fully expects us all to mess it up from time to time. We are all inheritors of the fall, after all. In addition, the world is made up of vessels chosen for salvation and those who were not. Both the Law and civil law applies to all of us, but the civil law is something that we ourselves can police and enforce.

  Let me introduce another word here: discipline. Discipline is not just punishment. Punishment is the result of an adverse judgment. Discipline involves correction. Our responsibility as Christians is to discipline our own. This means that we should come alongside each other and help them to correct their errs and assist in creating patterns of behavior that best resemble those set forth by The Law as explained by Christ. Let me emphasize not the correction, but the coming alongside portion of that definition. Do you think that publically ridiculing this young man has any place in the sort of discipline that I am describing?

  I need to introduce one last term: forgiveness. Recite the Lord’s Prayer right now. Go on, I’ll wait. “…forgive us our sins (trespasses) as we forgive those who sin (trespass) against us." (My apologies to those who use “debtors” in this place.) So, according to the Lord’s Prayer, and many other places besides, we have an obligation to forgive. We have an OBLIGATION to FORGIVE. This is not an option for Christians. Why? Because judgment under the Law of God is not our province. We must forgive, that is our province.

   Finally, coming back again to our young public figure. Let us walk through a full and appropriate response to his actions. First, under civil law, he is innocent until proven guilty. Once adjudged guilty, he will be punished. Second, under social convention, our standards are not as high. He has already been adjudged unworthy of his position as a public figure and accordingly punished. As Christians, our obligation is to forgive him his sin. As Christians in his local Christian community, those involved must also exercise discipline, to come alongside the young man and redirect his actions, showing him the way and assisting him in developing habits worthy of his calling as one of Christ’s own.

   There are certainly nuances and what if games to play, but this should be sufficient discussion of this topic to allow for a more successful discernment of the issues at play in this discussion. 


Saturday, April 26, 2014

Marks of the Church: Back on Track

After some mulling over of Articles XXV and XXVII, I have come to the conclusion that I overreacted to my criticism. While I can readily see that there is ample room for confusion, I don't think that a Reformed understanding of these Articles are abandoned. There is a key issue to navigate, but I think that I am consistent with the doctrine. The key is the last paragraph of Article XXV.
The Sacraments were not ordained of Christ to be guessed upon, or to be carried about; but that we should duly use them. And in such only, as worthily receive the same, they have a wholesome effect or operation; But they that receive them unworthily, purchase to themselves damnation, as St. Paul says.
How does one unworthily receive Baptism? I think that this is the issue that I was pushing towards in my most recent example concerning the Baptism of the non-elect. If a non-elect is Baptized, the use of the sacrament does NOT have a wholesome effect, but rather purchases damnation by the person. While we cannot know that this is occurring, we can no more refuse to Baptize than we do fence the table. How can we Baptize infants with any foreknowledge of the person and still hold concern for the person? Indeed, the opponents of paedobaptism gain considerable traction here. Still, we can have comfort in the knowledge that we do not elect. Those other vessels for other purposes have already been passed over regardless of our attempts to use the Sacraments as we were taught. Their damnation was not ours to prevent. 

Returning to the issue of regeneration, it would then seem that there is a dual process occurring. In the elect, the regeneration is simultaneous with Baptism. Article XXVII states that the Sacrament is a "sign of regeneration." This is a different thing that stating that Baptism is efficacious in regeneration as do the Lutherans. We can further extrapolate that simultaneous regeneration at Baptism is expected in the elect, while the simultaneous confirmation of damnation is expected in the non-elect. We cannot hold to a position of the sign of regeneration without also holding to a position of damnation. 

Importantly for my recently one-sided conversation with MDA (Monroe Doctrine Author), this reading of Articles XXV and XXVII is consistent with the later distinction between the sign and the thing signified. Article XXVII is actually quite clear on this point. What is missing from this discussion in the 39 Articles is the fate of the non-elect, an omission that does not seem to concern the church, presumably because it is not in our hands. 

I hope that this has clarified the confusion of my own making. Working through this again has at least put me in a place where I am again comfortable with my own position. It may be, as I have stated several times earlier, that these distinctions are largely lost upon the Anglican Church, but at least I feel that there is consistency between the 39 Articles with the later Westminster Confession on this issue.


Monday, April 21, 2014

Marks of the Church: Retraction and Clarification.

Just so you know, my readers are good. I have been offered a potential correction concerning the Anglican position on Baptism from the 39 Articles, articles 25 and 27. They read:
XXV. Of the Sacraments.
Sacraments ordained of Christ, be not only badges or tokens of Christian men’s profession; but rather they are certain sure witnesses and effectual signs of grace and God’s good will towards us, by which he does work invisibly in us, and does not only quicken, but also strengthens and confirms our faith in him. 
   There are two Sacraments ordained of Christ our Lord in the Gospel, that is to say, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord. 
   Those five, commonly called Sacraments, that is to say, Confirmation, Penance, Orders, Matrimony, and extreme Unction, are not to be computed for Sacraments of the gospel, being such as have grown partly of the corrupt following of the Apostles, partly are states of life allowed in the scriptures; but yet have not like nature of Sacraments with Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, for that they have not any visible sign or ceremony ordained of God. 
   The Sacraments were not ordained of Christ to be guessed upon, or to be carried about; but that we should duly use them. And in such only, as worthily receive the same, they have a wholesome effect or operation; But they that receive them unworthily, purchase to themselves damnation, as St. Paul says.
XXVII. Of Baptism.
Baptism is not only a sign of profession, and mark of difference, whereby Christian men are discerned from other that be not christened:  but is also a sign of regeneration or new birth, whereby as by an instru­ment, they that receive baptism rightly, are grafted into the Church:  the promises of the forgiveness of sin, and of our adoption to be the sons of God, by the holy ghost, are visibly signed and sealed; faith is confirmed; and grace increased by virtue of prayer unto God.  The baptism of young children is in any wise to be retained in the Church, as most agreeable with the institution of Christ.
It is not often that I am called to task for an issue like this, but I must confess that I have been spending so much time in the Reformed world, that I may have missed this point. The Anglican position on Baptism may be exactly the same as the Lutheran position and regeneration is assumed with Baptism, but this will require further study.

As I work through this again, I expect Luther might be the best to read on the subject, but I will be open to suggestions. The issue of the perseverance of the saints is at stake and it will require much prayer and consideration. 

In the mean time, let us assume that I hold to the positions that I have stated whether the Anglican Church does or not, and I will also ferret out the position of the Reformed Episcopal Church within the Anglican Church of North America. 


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Marks of the Church: Resumption of discussion.

I was somewhat taken aback with the change in tone by the Monroe Doctrine Author (MDA) in his last post that was written in response to me. So, I needed time to walk away and then come back to our discussion. Let me start by responding and clarifying a small amount before we get into the second hypothetical. 

While MDA claims that I made a “pedantic” statement concerning the nature of the sacraments, it clearly is not a point of minutia to me, and thereby we can see a fairly large point of departure. What I have tried to do is to pin down exactly what it is that is the nature of a sacrament in the Presbyterian world, and it still seems elusive to me. Where I am accused in finding “virtue in confusion” is in actual fact my attempts at clearing my own confusion on the issue, a point that I am no further along than I was three months ago.  

What I have attempted to do in my own posts is to point to a decided difference in ecclesiology that is reflected in the practices of the two churches. Since the sacraments are marks of the church in both systems, it stood to reason that these issues needed to be sorted prior to tackling the Presbyterian third mark. I have failed utterly in making my own points clear as instead I have been characterized as a champion of confusion. Therefore, let me make my own points clear once more.

Baptism in the Anglican world is not the same as in the Lutheran world. “The reformed understanding is that there should neither be confusion (as with Rome) nor separation (as in Zwingli) between the sign and the thing signified.” We agree on this point. MDA asserts that I believe in an ex opere relationship of baptism to regeneration, while I have asserted quite differently. His assertion is consistent with the Lutheran tradition, and I have stated that this is not the Anglican tradition, at least as I understand it. I have tried to make a distinction between the sign and seal of covenant in Baptism with regeneration despite simultaneous occurrence of these events in the elect. This is a distinction that MDA does not seem to recognize in my writing, so I will attempt it again. The example that is useful is the covenant member who is not elect. Baptism brings this person into the covenant community, but no regeneration occurs. This is why this person might be seen to fall away from the church. This example makes plain that the Anglican understanding of baptism is different from the Lutheran understanding. The ontological separation of these events, baptism and regeneration, does not require temporal separation, however. This is an important point, and not at all of minutia.

Similarly, my long dwelling on baptism, ecclesiology and liturgy was in fact to demonstrate a lack of need to fence the table in the Anglican world. I view fencing the table a form of discipline, and in this I may be in error from the mindset of the Presbyterian. But I have not been explicitly told so as of this writing, and it may be that this is accurate in certain circumstances, but not in others.

The question that I have left on the table was basically this: what is the nature of the Presbyterian meaning of “pneumatic presence” in the Lord’s Supper as it is clearly different from that meant by the Anglicans, though I have not been able to articulate either side with sufficient clarity to further the discussion. Perhaps MDA will finally take up this point.

Now, moving on the MDA response to the second hypothetical, I would start with this statement. I chose a particular sin knowing it was difficult. MDA answered the particular question very well, but not the spirit of the question. In directing an appropriate next step in our discussion, I would ask MDA to change the habitual sin to any other one he chooses, so long as it requires the formal discipline process within the church. This will best give MDA an opportunity to forward his view of the discipline process as he understands it.

Remembering that we are both brothers in Christ Jesus, I put the ball back into your court, sir.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Marks of the Church: Pause and Reference to an aside

It will take some time for me to sort out exactly where I need to go next in my debate with the Monroe Doctrine Author (MDA). His most recent response is here. I need time to digest and investigate where our divergence of understand has occurred and try to get on track with his meaning.

In the meantime, I would whole-heartedly commend to you, my readers, his latest effort, in which he shares a view that I find compelling and revealing. It is very well written and I absolutely concur with his sentiment and underlying theology in this regard.

I will try to get us back to the debate soon.

- Troll -

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Marks of the Church: The Second Hypothetical

As we move into the new year, our debate will finally get to the subject originally promised. The main lesson I’ve learned is that I’m going to stop quoting Presbyterians, as I keep picking the ones who have been defrocked. Rather than any major regrouping, I’d rather start by pointing out the obvious. There are a couple of questions that remain unanswered from the earlier posts.

The phrase that muddies the water is, again, that there should be a distinction between the sign and the thing signified. While this is clearly evident as a Roman failing when we think of transubstantiation at Communion in Roman theology, what is not at all clear is how the Holy Spirit is involved in the Presbyterian Lord’s Supper. The pneumatic presence that is part and parcel of this theology is not explained. Let’s go to the standard, a place where MDA (Monroe Doctrine Author) will have to stand fast.

Chapter XXVII of the Westminster Confession of Faith, interestingly enough the last chapter, states the following. Sacraments are the holy signs and seals of the covenant of grace, immediately instituted by God, to represent Christ and His benefits; and to confirm our interest in Him: as also, to put a visible difference between those that belong unto the Church and the rest of the world; and solemnly to engage them to the service of God in Christ, according to His Word. Clearly, signs and seals of the covenant of grace means something important here, but I would have MDA sort this out.

Westminster goes on with this, that there is, in every sacrament, a spiritual relation, or sacramental union between the sign and the thing signified: whence it comes to pass, that the names and effects of the one are attributed to the other. Now, this is exactly the issue. My several reads through this seem more similar to Anglican theology and less similar to Presbyterian theology as I am coming to understand it. Some explanation will be required in this section as well.

The grace which is exhibited in or by the sacraments rightly used, is not conferred by any power in them; neither does the efficacy of a sacrament depend upon the piety or intention of him that does administer it: but upon the work of the Spirit, and the word of institution, which contains, together with a precept authorizing the use thereof, a promise of benefit to worthy receivers. As far as the location of the power being in the Spirit and the word of institution, we have no argument. This is classic Reformed thinking and is mirroring the 39 Articles very closely.  What is still unclear is that there are benefits of sacraments mentioned, but what exactly are those benefits in the Presbyterian system?

The last two points are not worth a discussion as they are Reformed givens.

Any Anglican can see why this emphasis on separation of sign and thing signified seems contrary to the very essence of a sacrament, that there is something sacred at work. What is more, the Westminster standard seems to agree with the Anglican position. Surely, I have misunderstood this emphasis and I am therefore making much of little. I leave these issues to MDA for explanation.

Second Hypothetical

Let us consider an adult male member of each church. Let us for a moment assume that this man is baptized and a member in good standing in the church. The obvious theological point is that this man is a covenant member. He is outwardly and visibly a member of the covenant community. However, there is no clear knowledge of his inward or invisible faith. In other words, despite his participation in church, he may not actually be among the elect. Now, let us add a visible sin to the picture. This man owns a local hardware store. His store is open Saturday and Sunday (for clarity and to sure there is a fourth commandment issue), and he not only works in the store himself on these days, but forces his employees to do the same. He is unwilling to hear of anyone telling him otherwise. Let us begin.

I chose this example for several reasons, but there are two compelling issues here. First, many would say that this isn’t really a sin. I fail to see the wiggle room myself, but if MDA chooses, he can change the sin to one more suited to his arguments. Secondly, once we accept this is a true violation of the fourth commandment in the intention of the man, we can easily move past the issue of its habitual nature.

Now, it is to MDA to explain how he views the situation of this man in terms of his ultimate salvation, membership in the church, state of repentance and finally whether and how he is fenced and disciplined. My own thoughts I will save for second place as I have far too much ground to cover without first understanding the process about which we will spar.

To all who chance upon this blog, I wish you a blessed 2014.

– Troll –

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Marks of the Church: First Hypothetical Rebuttal

This post will be my rebuttal points from this post by the Monroe Doctrine Author (MDA) concerning my first hypothetical. MDA has engaged the debate and offers us a useful description of PCA views on the child in the covenant community. Distinctions are drawn between the visible and invisible church. But to begin this rebuttal, I would draw our attention to the two definitions of sacrament that have been offered.

MDA has made emphasis of the point at least a couple of times now that that Presbyterian standards make clear that there should be no confusion between the sign and the thing signified. The Anglican view is that the sacrament is the outward visible sign of an inward spiritual and invisible grace. The key point of emphasis is that the Holy Spirit works on us through the sacraments. What is the difference here since both sides seem to point to a distinction, but an outsider may not see it?

The Presbyterian emphasis seems to be that we cannot know the timing of the working of the Holy Spirit while the Anglican emphasis is that the sacraments are a gift to us through which the Holy Spirit works on us. This is actually a rather huge divergence of emphasis and it is seen in action clearly in both sacraments. To say that the Holy Spirit cannot be understood to act through the sacraments, though He might choose to do so, is to take a deep cut into the theology, status and emphasis of the sacraments. It seems a short walk from this perspective to Zwingli, far closer than the standards suggest with their use of the term “pneumatic presence.” This phrase to me means exactly a pointing to the Holy Spirit in the sacrament. Therefore, there seems to be an inconsistency on this issue. There is recognition that the Holy Spirit is mysteriously present in the sacraments, but an emphasis that He may not be doing anything while He is there. Obviously, some clarification on this point will need to be forthcoming.

Coming back to Paedocommunion for a moment, it is going to be difficult to sort this out from my own church as the official position of the Reformed Episcopal Church (REC) within the ACNA is to leave this up to the local church. This is an interesting and yet frustrating position. I would have been completely unsurprised by this position from ACNA as this is consistent with their view of women clergy. However, the REC is substantially older and seems to have been affected by the same trend in the Anglican world from the 1960s.

But since this is such a hot issue within the Reformed world, even within the PCA who have discussed it as recently as this year in conference, I think a more careful look at it is warranted. This is taken from a blog by Matt Kennedy.
Rather than forming faith in their young, evangelical parents often seem to wait for it to “burble up spontaneously from the heart” and then when some inclination toward Christ does arise, it is—in the worst cases—seized upon, cut open, laid bare on the examining table and probed to see whether it meets various doctrinal requirements rather than fed, channeled, and nourished. I’ve seen children who clearly love Jesus denied baptism/communion by their parents because they don’t sufficiently understand the ins and outs of sola fide or eucharistic theology—which, from my perspective, sets said parents down squarely into the first century sandals of Jesus’ original disciples who barred children’s way to the Lord.
Kennedy quotes this from Doug Wilson.
This is the assumption that when very young children are taught to respond this way, we are simply training them, as you would a puppy, and not really educating them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. The plastic nature of a child’s soul is thought to be such that you could tell them anything, and since they don’t know any better, this responsiveness of theirs cannot be known to be true faith. And since we cannot “know” it to be true faith, then we need to wait until their profession of faith is mature enough to cross-examine. We are bringing the logic of courtroom verification into the rearing of children. Nothing against courtroom verification in its place, but that’s not what we should be doing here. Christian nurture is more like breastfeeding than it is like grilling a hostile witness…
Reflecting on the comments of MDA and my own last post, I would draw attention to more to our practice of confirmation and its role in our liturgy rather than paedocommunion. Paedocommunion has more to do with inclusion in the invisible church, while confirmation has more to do with inclusion in the visible church. One has to question both, but at the end of the day, both remain important. Finally, I think we can discuss some other aspects of this sacrament, particularly its use in terms of discipline in some Reformed eyes.

The key point for MDA is the issue of self-examination by individuals prior to participating in communion. In his argument against paedocommunion, he asserts that the child of a pre-confirmation age has not yet acquired the ability to perform this self-examination. To this point, I would concede a fraction and yet draw attention back to Wilson’s comments above. A covenant child may never know and remember a day in which he did not believe. This nurturing with the Holy Spirit through Communion is consistent with an Anglican theology of upbringing. We are a church involved in the spiritual upbringing of children, not just the doctrinal education of children. In some respects, our Evangelical brothers have it right. There cannot be an omission of the spiritual, both in terms of recognition and experience. The Eastern criticism of the West is valid on this point.

But once again, my thought process would return to the liturgical practice of confession and absolution prior to Communion. Either these practices are considered irrelevant by the Presbyterian or woefully insufficient to satisfy Paul’s conditions in 1 Corinthians 11. I would argue that this could not be farther from the case within Anglican theology. This liturgical ordering is precisely geared to this point. The Roman and Orthodox examples cannot be ignored. As the older churches, perhaps they do some things right. Did Luther intend to rebel or to instruct on error? Was the spirituality of the Church the question on Luther’s mind? John Calvin was certainly a theologian of the Holy Spirit as he was a great follower of Paul. Paul himself is a theologian of the Holy Spirit as the chapters that follow 1 Corinthians 11 are at the center of the continuation of gifts debate. There is seemingly much emphasis on the mind and a lack of emphasis on the spiritual in the Reformed debate. The two are inseparable in Anglican theology and this is also a component of why Evangelicans can seem to be closer to Rome than Calvin at times.

Finally, for today, I would affirm that the federal vision movement, distinctly different from the federal representation of both Adams in our covenant views, is a position that clearly is far from my position. Tom Wright has certainly written a lot of popular literature. He is not only a federal vision guy, but a new perspective on Paul guy, both positions that neither MDA nor I will support.

After MDA is given a chance to respond, my next post will hopefully take the hypothetical of an adult covenant member who has sinned and address the issues of discipline.

– Troll –

Sunday, December 1, 2013

A Debate on the Marks of the Church: First Hypothetical

The response to my last post from the Monroe Doctrine author (MDA) can be found here. Please take a moment to read it, because I would affirm the assumptions made by MDA in his opening paragraphs. I think that this is a fair series of statements that do well in framing the discussion. Prior to getting to the first hypothetical, I would take a moment to respond to the five points listed.

1.       Concerning sacramental rites, while these are not true sacraments in the sense of Baptism and the Eucharist, they warranted preservation in the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) as useful rites. Indeed, a church without marriage would just not do at all. But even marriage is not a true sacrament, a view shared by both sides in this debate. While the language to which MDA referred may be confusing, the terminology is no more than a nod to our Romish roots. There are only two sacraments.

2.       Concerning Chapter 27.3 of the Westminster Confession of Faith, I would refer you to Article 26 of the 39 Articles, remembering that it predates Westminster, and you will see similar language. The issue of Christ in the sacrament is a slippery slope and I would question MDA here on the meaning a “pneumatic presence” that I understand to be the Presbyterian position. Anglicans use of “real presense,” while clearly not meaning transubstantiation, has come to mean something very akin to Lutheran consubstantiation. Nonetheless, my personal view, although admittedly in the minority of all Anglicans, but likely the majority of my Reformed Episcopal Church (REC,) would be more in line with the “pneumatic presence” as I understand it and described before. Here, I must admit to Anglican heterogeneity while defining my position within the most Reformed branch of the stream.

3.       Concerning point 3 and regeneration, this is clearly going to be a lynchpin of our discussion and one in which I will have to be careful to observe stringent definitions during our debate. Much of what will follow later will hinge upon these differences. I do think that MDA has correctly understood what I have suggested as a position consistent with most Anglican theologians on this point.

4.       Concerning point 4, there is not much here to discuss, I am charged with underestimating Presbyterian valuation of the Lord’s Supper, and that may be true. But relative to the Anglican position in terms of theology, service order, architecture, frequency and emphasis, any non-catholic (small “c” intended) view of the Eucharist will seem to be a devaluation. So, I will concede the point.

5.       Concerning the episcopate, it might be helpful here to draw parallels on the issue of parity. Bishops have been the seat of authority in the church since at least the third century. The Holy Sees of the early Church are mentioned in kind if not specifically by that name in Revelation. It was common to use the term bishop to refer to the seat of authority within that principality. Of course, parity among bishops was an Eastern assumption, one that Rome countermanded leading to the Great Schism in 1054. Anglican history, in addition to issues over theology, is far better known for this issue of parity. While the Archbishop of Canterbury has a place of honor among bishops, it is still a place among equals. There exists within Anglican hierarchy absolute independence of authority between diocese. An Archbishop is an administrative position over a province, but has no greater authority than the other bishops. This is probably similar to a Metropolitan in the Eastern Church. Clergy are ordained to be the local agents of the bishop. As such, they perform the sacraments by authority of their bishop. This is why there is a hierarchical distinction between bishops and priests. Nonetheless, this parity of elders that is so highly valued by the Presbyterians is not unlike the Anglican parity of bishops. Indeed, the idea of parity has been preserved from the early church and is consistent with the Eastern side of the Great Schism.

First Hypothetical

In order to flesh out this discussion, it would seem best to follow through a number of hypothetical situations and then comment on the theology at work at each step. It will be necessary in this regard to make assumptions, but this is acceptable within the world of hypotheticals. Nonetheless, the viewpoint of man will need to be considered necessarily as a part of this debate, and I will be harping on this issue to some degree. Let us begin with the easiest situation.

Describe the theological sign posts of a covenant child, baptized at infancy (obviously on or after the eighth day,) brought up in the church, who becomes a member in good standing in his church where he lives throughout his life until his death. I’ll go first as both example and a starting point for debate.

This child has communicant parents in the church. What can be said about the parents is that they are certainly covenant members and have the appearance of being among the elect. Covenant membership through baptism is reasonably extended to children of covenant members without much reservation. The Baptismal Covenant set forth in the BCP, assigns responsibility for the proper Christian education of the child, not only to the parents and godparents, but also to the whole congregation present. Whether this plays out in practice is another issue, but the words set forth in the sacrament are clear on this point. Theologically, that child is a covenant member. Through the doctrine of election, there are two possibilities. If the child is elect, the view of baptism becomes similar temporally to Lutheran theology. This is still not the same as the Lutherans, as the moving of the Holy Spirit cannot be known to act in one way or the other for the Anglican, while the Lutheran assumes that the Holy Spirit gives through the sacrament what is promised by the sacrament. Regeneration is in this case simultaneous with the sacrament. This is an important point if the child were to die. We stand in agreement with Lutherans on this issue.

If, instead, the child were not of the elect, by baptism, he is still deserving of all the rights and privileges of covenant membership. He might still be raised in the church and indeed spend his whole life in the church. The difference is regarding the lack of regeneration. Instead, by baptism, he has essentially blasphemed against the Holy Spirit, sealing his fate from the start. In every appearance, he may seem to be elect from the perspective of man, and yet there is a hidden and unknown to man lack of repentance and true faith. He has taken Communion thousands of times and his fate cannot be clearer to God.

Both children go through confirmation classes, essentially a catechism though not called that. Confirmation is the laying on of hands by the bishop conferring upon the individual full standing within the church. This is the transfer of responsibility for one’s own Baptismal vows back to the individual in the case of both children and adults. Adults who are baptized in the church will also go through Confirmation as their Baptismal vows are also jointly held by the congregation at the time of Baptism. This transference by the laying on of hands also confers apostolic succession from the Bishop to his charges, making the person in communion with the one catholic and apostolic church on this earth. However, this is, importantly, not a true sacrament in the Protestant world as it is in the Roman world. As a part of fencing the table, first Communion is usually at this time for Roman Catholics.

In contradistinction, Anglicans hold to the controversial practice of paedocommunion, the giving of communion to children before confirmation. I am calling this controversial, as it was introduced to the Episcopal Church (USA) about 40 years ago, about a decade after the ordination of women. To be fair, I’ll have to ask my current priest or bishop whether this is even done in the REC. Nonetheless, to follow through this process logically, I will start with the adult who is baptized. We invite all baptized Christians to our table. This includes adults before they have received confirmation. The theological position of a child aged 9 who has not been confirmed is similar to the adult who has not been confirmed. Separate classes or instruction are given through Sunday School to children, usually at around first or second grade, for the receiving of communion. This is not akin to confirmation in any way. The elect child receives the benefits of the sacrament, while the non-elect child receives all of the dire consequences of 1 Corinthians 11. But to all appearances, these children would be of the same situation. The adult who is baptized but not yet confirmed is in the same boat. The emphasis here is on the sacrament of Baptism. By inclusion into the visible church, the assumption is made that the person is worthy to receive Communion. We cannot know otherwise from the viewpoint of man.

Rather than introduce a specific sin at this point, I’ll yield the floor to MDA for his response. This will certainly have generated a number of issues to which he will likely want to respond.

- Troll -